Conquer public speaking fears

Conquer public speaking fears

Are you afraid to address a crowd? Do you get anxious over small talk in an elevator? You’re not alone.

“Talking in public is the No. 1 phobia in the world,” says Jonathan Berent, a licensed psychotherapist and co-author of the book “Work Makes me Nervous.” “A number of my patients say they would consider getting into an accident on the way to work to avoid speaking in public scenarios. One patient who was an ovarian cancer survivor said she’d rather go back to chemo.”

Berent says 20 percent of the general population has reported extreme discomfort in public speaking scenarios. And it’s not just large groups that cause the anxiety to kick into high gear. “It could be addressing someone in a board room or an informal business meeting. Two people or 300 — it can have the same results.”

One of the main causes of all this social anxiety, Berent has found, is our digital world.

“Technology is a wonderful thing, yet at the same time it has emphasized the need for productivity,” explains Berent. “People become overly dependent on technology for communication, yet when you are in a real time scenario, this requires a process of different neural pathways to get words out of your mouth. This is very different from the pathways that happen for using technology.”

And if you don’t keep exercising those ‘real time communication’ neural pathways, your body will have a reaction.

“The fear of being noticeably nervous, stammering or sweating, becomes a compulsion to many who suffer from this,” says Berent. “There’s a whole new medical industry where physicians cut your nerves to prevent blushing and sweating.”

Berent says our future generations already have the odds stacked against them when it comes to continuing the patterns of fear.

“While autism affects 7 out of 1,000 kids, 6 out of 1,000 have selective mutism — which is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in not speaking in certain situations,” says Berent. “These kids grow up to be adults with the worry of not having anything to say, or knowing what to say.”

So what can we do to get control of the panic?
By Jen Weigel